Baratunde Leaves Healthcare, Job At Onion. Initiates Phase 4


Four and a half years ago, I proudly joined the ranks of America’s Finest News Source, a/k/a The Onion. For a comedian, tech geek and politics and news junkie, it was and remains an epic high in my life. Today, with a deep sense of nostalgia, I’m excited to move to the next chapter of that insane life having stepped down as Director of Digital to pursue more entrepreneurial ventures.

It’s been an amazing ride.

Acting as politics editor, I played a part in The Onion’s 2008 “War For The White House” election coverage which surpassed that of all other media organizations in providing a true, if not accurate, perspective on that historic period in the history of the United States. I was not a full-time Onion writer, but I got to join that vaunted writers room and got a few headlines and stories published which I shall wear like an Olympic gold medal.

As a general member of the staff, I loved getting to hear the behind-the-scenes arguments, helping spread the joy that is #whiskeyfriday and being the pinch-hitting black employee who played the parts of a guy Dick Cheney dunked on, all three Supremes and, most significantly, Barack Obama’s hillbilly half-cousin, Cooter. Hell yes y’all can.

And as director of digital (a badass title I created for myself), I got to experiment and help The Onion define its voice on the platforms and interfaces of the future. What I learned there changed the way I’ll think about media and technology forever. When The Onion live tweeted the Oscars, made a playable version of the Close Range video game or subversively promoted its TV show by posting the image of an adorable piglet launched by Al Qaeda to cripple these United States, I got a tangible sense of where storytelling could go.

I am grateful to so many people for my time at The Onion that it would be rude to attempt to name them. So here they are. 

Former managing editor Peter Koechley has earned permanent honored status for paving the way for my job there. Editor Joe Randazzo has been a smart, daring and creative leader as well as a good friend. My digital team including former boss, Mike Greer as well as web producer (and great writer) Matt Kirsch. I will miss hacking the future with you two. Of course there’s Kate Palmer and Brian Janosch and Joe Garden and all those faceless interns (because I removed their faces). And writer Todd Hanson whose philosophical walks around the neighborhood continue to inspire me. Last, Dummy, the unofficial office dog who, like most dogs, makes life better.
But really it’s everyone. I have never worked with a more hard-working, intelligent and hilarious team in my life. It’s a rare thing for any of us to experience a full day of such wonderful chemistry. I got four-and-a-half years. 

So, here’s what’s next. I will continue to roll out the world attached to my book, How To Be Black. I will continue to pursue opportunities in the world of moving pictures. And I will continue doing performance and public speaking events, especially those focused on race and identity, the future of digital storytelling and the power of comedy to help us understand the world.

It’s this last topic that has most captured my attention. At this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival, I was honored to deliver the opening keynote. I now realize that in it, I outlined the premise for the next phase of my life. You can view the talk here: http://blackte.am/KLXgP1

Essentially, I argued that in an increasingly noisy world of information and digital interactions, comedy can still deliver the truth in a way that captures people’s attention and does so in an essentially human way. As the definition of media grows from “news” and “video” to anything that acts as an interface to our world (duh, medium!), comedy must follow. Given the world we live in, that means the bombardment of marketing messages we experience, all of our online and digital experiences and the physical world. For a sample of what I actually mean, you can see my talks on being the swine flu or using Foursquare to run a real-world campaign

So, I’m slowly building a company. It’s name is Cultivated Wit, and we will use humor to engage. We’ll do this via events. We’ll do this via consulting and advising to those who want to connect with their communities in humorous and human ways. And we’ll do this by creating our own worlds in the form of smart, hilarious stories that span platforms in meaningful ways. The name “Cultivated Wit” is pulled from a quote by Roman soldier and poet, Horace who said:

"A cultivated wit, one that badgers less, can persuade all the more. Artful ridicule can address contentious issues more competently and vigorously than can severity alone."

If this mission sounds interesting to you, check out the website and sign up for upcoming news and announcements, and you should all be on my email list. If you want to do more than that; if you want to join forces with me to spread blackness or advance the comedic digital arts or just blindly head with me toward the fiery pits of Mount Doom, please join my street team. http://blackte.am/baratundest. I’m looking for people who want to preview my next steps, test out new products, help spread messages in new ways and join me in telling the story of the future.

Onward!, with utmost sincerity, gratitude and ridiculousness.

Baratunde Thurston
author, How To Be Black.
founder, Cultivated Wit.